Alexander Mackendrick’s sophisticated, if oddly unsatisfying adventure film (kids; pirates; mutiny; murder & miscarriage of justice) never finds its proper tone. Though it certainly dives straight into the action, opening on a tropical storm that ravages the island home of The Thorntons, forcing a decision to send the children home to England for proper schooling & manners. But when their ship gets overtaken by buccaneers, the kids wind up sailing off with a band of pirates led by Anthony Quinn & James Coburn who are soon being pursued as kidnappers/murderers. The story has a lot going for it (plus Douglas Slocombe lensing), but the playing is unfocused & overcooked. It soon grows wearying, especially Quinn & the kids.* And Mackendrick, no Carol Reed in child wrangling, gets a spotty perf from young Deborah Baxter whose closed face barely registers . . . anything. Worse, he fumbles some crucial action scenes. (A climactic stabbing makes no sense at all.) A pity since the story’s dark turn is loaded with possibilities.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *The playing really does leave you exhausted, as if you’ve binge-watched a 10-episode series, a format that might make a better fit for this sea-faring tale. Cable-programmers, check on the rights!